Muizenberg, South Africa


Muizenberg Memories

By Stella Clingman

Published in The North Shore Synagogue (Sydney) Bulletin, November 2015.

I am grateful that my maternal Polish grandparents emigrated to Cape Town after marrying in 1895. My mother was born into their large orthodox family. My parents settled in the hot desert Karroo interior region.  Every summer school holiday we made the long, sooty steam train journey to Cape Town, exciting and enjoyable for the children but a real drag for parents.

The family reunion centred on the grandparents’ home standing on the slopes of Table Mountain. The cousins took over the large rambling Victorian house and garden, we had a great time.

When it all got too much for my angelic grandmother we took the electric train to the other side of Table Mountain to Muizenberg, the summer medina of the S African Jewish population. Jewzenberg with its warm Indian Ocean, gentle surf and miles of lovely stretches of soft white, sandy beaches.

I would throw off my shoes, live in my bathing suit, the beach and surf became my home and soon was as brown as a berry.  We had what amounted to a permanent booking with the Victoria Hotel, built in the Victorian era. We ate a hearty breakfast, followed by a hearty morning tea, followed by a hearty lunch, followed by a hearty afternoon tea and finally a truly hearty dinner. The tariff was costly, it was said families mortgaged their homes to enjoy the Muizenberg scene. Each year we met up with friends and together explored the villages along the coast, visiting the naval base of Simonstown.

I have visions of elderly matrons bending down at the edge of the surf ‘tunking’  pouring  water down the front of their costumes. If you do not know what ‘tunking ‘ means, you have never been in the heavenly  atmosphere of Muizenberg beach.  Never mind that in the afternoon the wind blew and whipped up the sand and the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The evenings were truly seaside fresh and chilly. To take the ‘luft’ adults donned their coats for the walk along the promenade to meet and greet.

The hungry horde flocked to the Pavilion Café to enjoy the excellent, rich milkshakes and icecream.  A shop in a dark, dingy alley, made the best ever kosher hotdogs, fat red sausages covered with thick mustard on a whitebread roll.

Young people crowded into ‘the snakepit’ a stuffy rectangular piece of beach sheltered from the wind by the promenade on the one side and the bathing boxes on the other. This was the melting pot for Jewish youth, many marriages resulted from these summer meetings.

The story goes that the Jews asked the then Prime Minister, Jan Smuts, to support a Jewish State in Palestine and he replied ‘What more do you want from me, I’ve already given you Muizenberg’